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Thursday 19 September 2019

Shoppers eye the bargains while blind to banking battles

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IT'S one of the last relics of 'auld dacency' on a much changed street. All the old department store favourites still trip off the tongue of those who remember the glory days of Henry Street: Pimms, Todd Burns, Woolworths, Roches Stores. Now, only Arnotts remains.

News that the perennial favourite of Irish department stores has become yet another victim of the financial crisis, falling into the hands of the banks, was greeted with sorrow by shoppers yesterday .

A company statement said it was business as usual. But trade union Mandate, which represents almost 900 workers at the store, said it was extremely concerned about the staff's future.

This great shopping mecca -- generations of Irish people have flocked through its doors for holy communions, confirmations, weddings and christenings -- has always prided itself on its democracy.

There is something for everyone here -- from Topshop to Viyella.

In the cafe, Viennese whirls and slices of coffee cake sit side by side with fruit cups and smoothies.

At the hot-food counter, an elderly woman winces when she hears that the daily special involves blackbean sauce. She orders the chicken goujons instead.

Standing almost back to back, two men -- one 60-ish in a neat blue jumper and shirt, the other around 35 in trendy little glasses, a tan corduroy jacket and black backpack, stand patiently waiting for their other halves to rejoin them. It's a little vignette that neatly sums up the universal appeal of this store.

"We always come to Arnotts. I bought my confirmation clothes here," said Amy O'Neill (16) from Waterford who was up shopping for the day with friends Tara Fennelly (16) and Katie Shanahan (16).

"But I don't think it's as good as it was," reckoned Katie, who said she missed River Island which has moved elsewhere. "It's more for old people now," agreed Tara.

Few of the shoppers are discussing the news of Arnotts's finances -- they are too absorbed as they look at the new collections or rifle through the sales racks for an overlooked bargain.

On the face of it, it's just as busy as usual, but the basement gifts department -- showcasing Waterford Crystal, Nicholas Mosse pottery and various candles and pretty little knickknacks -- is practically ghostlike.

On the top level, the furniture department tells a similar tale. Three men are enjoying a peaceful siesta on the Ligne Roset leather sofas.

The atmosphere around the glossy marble-floored beauty hall is unusually subdued and assistants knit their groomed eyebrows with worry.

"None of us knew a thing -- the shop is doing so well," one staff member whispered.

Sisters Carmel Corrigan (83) from Perrystown, Terenure, and Kathleen McFall (77) from Glasnevin met yesterday for a shopping trip into Arnotts, as they have done for years.

Kathleen said she "didn't think much" of the news of Arnotts's misfortune. "They were supposed to be taking over this whole street. They just overstretched themselves," she said.

"They were always redecorating the place all the time too -- it was very confusing."

But both sisters still love Arnotts. "We have been coming here all our lives. They have very good ranges and they have everything under the one roof," said Kathleen.

"It's as good as it's always been and you can always get a bargain here," added Carmel.

Outside, huge sale signs advertise discounts of up to 70pc off as the usual hustle and bustle on Henry Street prevails.

Across the street at Debenhams, the British competitor, the atmosphere seems rather less refined and business seems less brisk, too.

And in Clery's, Arnotts's closest competitor in both age and philosophy, business also seems to be slower but there is a reasonable volume of people in for a look.

"Arnotts is a very reputable store and very good for the high- end stuff," said customer Wayne Farrell (45), from Churchtown in Dublin. "I'd be sad to see it go," he added sombrely.

Irish Independent

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